Kenny adviser to join European Investment Bank

Andrew McDowell was one of most significant figures in Irish politics in recent years

It will be little remarked upon outside the Merrion Street and Leinster House bubble, but one of the most significant figures in Irish politics in recent years will soon depart Enda Kenny's inner circle.

There will not be the noise that surrounds a ministerial departure or resignation, but the Cabinet decision on Tuesday to nominate Andrew McDowell as vice-president of the European Investment Bank (EIB) is arguably more significant.

McDowell has been at the heart of government since Fine Gael assumed office with Labour in 2011 and was one of the key drivers, if not the driver, of economic policy.

During the last government, he was at times portrayed as a bogeyman by the junior coalition partner, characterised as a right-wing ideologue who held sway in Fine Gael.


During tense budget negotiations in 2012, Ruairí Quinn noted in his diary that the “Labour ministers were told that the government could collapse because of the intransigence of Fine Gael, who are dominated by Andrew McDowell”.

There are those in Fine Gael who says such characterisations are unfair. McDowell was seen as dogmatic, they say, because he was often sent out by Kenny and Michael Noonan to shoot down policies floated by Labour.

Labour counterpart

McDowell’s relationship with Colm O’Reardon, his counterpart in Eamon Gilmore’s office, was one of the bedrocks of the last government, with the deal on the promissory notes a highlight of that period.

Still, McDowell does, according to sources, have a “straight line” idea of how problems should be solved. It is an approach more suited to the circumstances of economic crisis handled by the last government than the nimble political tactics needed for this Fine Gael-led minority administration.

His influence has extended far beyond pure economics, such as the now abandoned policy of universal health insurance and the last government’s approach to water charges.

The Cabinet ratified his nomination to the EIB, a position that comes with a €275,000 salary, on the recommendation of Noonan. It is understood that Shane Ross and Finian McGrath queried the process, but were reassured by Kenny.

They were also reluctant to push Fine Gael on it, since the Independent Alliance was already claiming victory on the issue of a free vote on TD Mick Wallace’s fatal foetal abnormalities Bill.

From a public appointments process, a shortlist of three was given to Noonan, who then recommended McDowell to the Cabinet.

Working with Noonan

Noonan and McDowell have a close working relationship, and the Minister for Finance speaks highly of the Donnybrook native.

One Fianna Fáil source said Noonan "swore by" McDowell in talks on forming a minority government, while describing his as "very pleasant, thorough, sincere gent. He is approachable as well and ideologically as blue as the Virgin Mary, but in the nicest possible way."

The Independent members of the Government also speak highly of McDowell’s role in negotiations to piece together the minority administration.

He is well regarded in the Fine Gael parliamentary party, although some criticised his role in drafting the recent election manifesto and election strategy, such as the confusion on the so-called “fiscal space”.

McDowell, along with chef de cabinet Mark Kennelly, are the Taoiseach's key advisers. The former has been by Kenny's side since 2007 and the latter since he became Fine Gael leader in 2002.

The departure of one has inevitably led to speculation in Leinster House that Kenny’s office is preparing for the Taoiseach’s own departure in the near future, which is rejected by those at the top of the party.

Others point out that McDowell would have moved on even if Fine Gael had returned with a whopping majority, says the EIB job is too good an opportunity to pass up.

Yet there is still an inescapable impression of a changing of the guard, and that Kenny’s own time to move on is approaching.